The Power of ESPN in college football TV

ATHENS – Shortly after Bill Curry was named the first football coach at Georgia State on June 11, he got a call from friend and former colleague Dave Brown of ESPN.

"I picked up the phone and said, ‘You want us to open the season against Notre Dame in 2010, don't you?'" Curry said.

The answer was no, not that Curry wouldn't love that kind of exposure in his current job. Brown is ESPN's vice president of programming and acquisitions and a terribly affable fellow, but for some college football fans he represents what's wrong with the relationship between college football and the television networks. Brown is the chief emissary for the network when it comes to scheduling.

If your team is kicking off at 9:15 p.m. Saturday, or even, gasp, on a Tuesday night on ESPN, Brown probably had something to do with it.

Curry likes Brown, a lot, but he's not as fond of what has become of the sport he has been in since playing at Georgia Tech from 1962 to 1964.

"Jerking the starting times around and changing the day of the game and sending tickets out that say TBD, I don't like that," he said.

What choice to school's have, though? Southeastern Conference schools received more than $50 million last fiscal year from the league's football television deals. It's the Golden Rule of the sport: He who has the gold, makes the rules, and in this case, tells Georgia and Auburn what time to show up for their game.

The fact that money is the motivating factor "makes the control even more obvious and somehow grating," said Curry, who worked for 11 years as a television commentator after his first stint of coaching ended.

Former Georgia head coach Jim Donnan also has seen the business from both sides. Donnan took a job as an ESPN analyst shortly after ending his tenure with the Bulldogs, and he has been asked by ESPN executives to approach his friends in the coaching business to feel out who might be willing to move and/or to encourage it, he said.

"I do know there is a lot of politicking going on trying to work out a team switching a game, and (the TV executives) start a long time ahead of time," Donnan said.

Brown declined to speak with The Telegraph this summer because his network currently is in negotiations with the SEC about a new contract, but Jimmy Rayburn, Raycom's vice president of operations, said his business gets an unfair reputation as a puppet master.

"There are certain times when we have input and we get what we ask for, but a lot of times we don't get close to what we ask for," he said. "We don't control the scheduling or the times totally, certainly not to the extent that we would do it if we could."

Still, Rayburn, whose group doesn't wield the say-so of a CBS or an ESPN, knows what the public image of his industry is.

"There is so much (college football) on TV that I think people get the perception that the colleges have sold their soul to television," he said.

ESPN's first college football deal, struck in 1985, included 13 games; last season the network televised more than 300, Curry said.

"I think it would be nice if the television entities did not have quite as much power, but that's not going to change," Curry said. "When I hear fans complaining about it, I say, ‘Well, you're probably right on the moral question, but all you have to do if you're wanting it to change is to not watch them.'

"And people can't keep from turning them on."

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